First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Nail Clippers, Pinheads, and Weapons of Terror
The initial panic is over. Air travel is still down, the travel industry is hurting, and it's time to take a calm look at what is actually necessary for our security when we fly.
In the first few days after 11 September, the real security measures -- locked cockpit doors; effective computer tracking of suspects -- were going to take a while to be put into place.
So, to restore public confidence, some extravagant cosmetic measures were taken.
Visible National Guardsmen with guns.
Random open-bag inspections.
Keeping cars from parking too close to terminals.
Confiscating silly items just to show how "alert" everybody was.
Like nail clippers.
Do you know what strength, skill, and luck it would take to cause any kind of damage to a human body with nail clippers? They hinge sideways or break top-to-bottom if there's any kind of stress.
They let me on board all the time carrying pencils and pens, which have far more rigidity, sharpness, and strength than nail clippers.
It makes sense to search for actual explosives, projectile weapons, poisons, lethal biological agents, or large bladed weapons like hatchets, machetes, or hunting knives.
But small nail- or beard-trimming scissors? That's just silly.
Not because there's no chance of somebody being crazy enough to try to take over an airplane using a paper clip, but because there is zero chance of the passengers letting anybody take over an airplane again. Ever. Period.
Is there any living American who does not know the phrase "Let's roll"?
Even somebody armed with a submachine gun is going to have a hard time taking over an American plane. Five guys with knives are going to find plenty of passengers ready to be cut to ribbons if necessary in the effort to subdue them.
As for the wacko trying to take over a plane with a shard of broken glass or a razor blade, forget it. He won't last three seconds before the passengers have him on the floor.
The trouble is, you see, that the "heightened security" since 11 September consists of a few things that actually improve safety, and a lot of things that make passengers furious with the way we're being treated.
It seems as though every pinhead who likes to boss people around and make them obey stupid rules "because I say so" has come out of the woodwork and is now working in airports, harassing passengers.
You walk up to an unused table, with no one standing within thirty feet, and set down your bag to put away something you carried by hand off the airplane. Sure enough, a security person starts screaming at you to "leave the secured area at once!"
The "secured area" consists of cloth ribbons vaguely marking off the space, with wide gaps in five places, and not a single sign indicated that it is a secured area.
This sort of thing happens all the time these days, making air travel a nightmare, not because we're afraid of fellow passengers with perfume bottles filled with sprayable ebola virus, but because we're afraid of getting yelled at, fondled, or robbed by security personnel determined to "protect" us by showing us that once we enter the airport, we're fair game for whatever paranoid fantasy they want to act out.
Let's get this thing under control.
Let's go over these rules with a rational mind, weighing the possibility of something being used as a weapon against the likelihood of such a use being successful.
Let's put some limits on the authority we give to security people and weed out those who have never had an ounce of power in their lives and are now having way too much fun making air travelers obey their every whim.
At least we might require our security personnel to be courteous and reasonable as they humiliate us and delay us and steal our stuff.
Meanwhile, you can count on it that our enemies are amused as they watch us cripple our own air industry in order to prevent what they already did, while they go on planning their next gambit, which will not include using shoelace tips to jab out the eyes of airline passengers.
After all, what were they planning in Singapore? Bicycle bombs. Nothing that any of our meaningless airport harassment would have prevented.
Irrational, useless security measures merely continue and expand the damage of 11 September.
Those terrorist acts not only killed thousands of people and knocked down buildings, but also continue to cause a depression in the airline industry and make hundreds of thousands of Americans so frustrated with airline security that they would rather stay home or travel by car.
And, given the automobile accident rate, driving people out of the airports will actually cause more American deaths than will ever be saved by taking away hair spray from harmless old ladies.
Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.
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